Waste Watch: Suburban Chicago local governments wasted nearly $16 million

October 9, 2018

As homeowners have watched their property taxes go up, their local budgets are filled with wasteful spending

CHICAGO (Oct. 9, 2018) – Suburban Chicago homeowners just paid their property tax bills – and many of them saw those bills go up. Over the past 10 years, Cook County’s median property taxes have increased $1,700, while median home values are down $34,400. But a new report from the Illinois Policy Institute exposes that those property taxes are paying for millions in local government waste.

The new report, “Waste Watch: Nearly $100 million of waste in Illinois state and local government,” reveals that between 2015 and 2018 – roughly the time of the state budget impasse – top local government spenders wasted nearly $16 million.

Some of the waste in the greater Chicago area included millions spent on lobbying, food and entertainment, advertising and promotional items.

These findings are in addition to $81 million in spending that was irresponsible or doled out for political favors in the 2019 state budget.

“Taxpayers have been sold a lie by local governments who are heavy-handed in increasing the tax levy and claiming it’s for improved services. Taxpayers deserve more fiscal responsibility from their municipalities,” said Adam Schuster, director of budget and tax research at the Illinois Policy Institute. “Any amount of waste in government budgets is unacceptable at a time when family budgets are being squeezed by growing property tax costs. Local officials owe it to these taxpayers to be good stewards of public funds.”

Highlights of the most wasteful suburban spending include:

  • Local government lobbying

Taxpayer funds accounted for nearly $2 million in lobbying activities from 30 towns and cities. The largest amount came from Arlington Heights, which spent $616,000 on lobbying interests.

  • Park district spending

The top 15 largest park districts in Illinois spent $1.6 million on promotions, including brochures, t-shirts and digital advertising. Specifically, Northbrook Park District spent $3 million in “p card” purchases over 14,242 transactions – meaning petty purchases that are hard to track. Northbrook Park District also spent $16,000 to attend a conference in New Orleans in 2017, $40,000 on paid advertising and $101,000 on lobbying.

  • Village of Rosemont’s budget

The village spent $65,000 on Gino’s East Pizza and more than $8,500 at McDonald’s. This is in addition to questionable costs, which include $250,000 in catering costs for Rosemont Catering Company, $200,000 to Verizon Wireless for cell service, $225,000 for indoor skydiving and nearly $200,000 to operate a haunted house.

  • Village of Bedford Park’s spending

The village of 580 residents spent nearly $8,000 on t-shirts, more than $150,000 on luncheons and $140,000 on its annual picnics over the course of three years. Altogether, the village spent $43,000 per resident, which is the third highest in the state.

  • City of Evanston’s budget

The city spent $100,000 to produce its seasonal magazines, $30,000 on t-shirts and close to $640 on a Snapchat filter. In addition, Evanston handed out more than $4,000 in petty cash on 33 different occasions in one year. In 2018, Evanston paid $2,200 for a helicopter to dump marshmallows on the ground for children to pick up.

  • Village of Schaumburg’s budget

Schaumburg’s spent $1.6 million on tourism, even as they were expected to lose nearly $7 million in 2016. In addition, the municipality doled out $13,000 on meals at Portillo’s and Panera, $25,000 on flowers, $15,000 for candies and cookies and $21,400 for t-shirt printing.

The Institute’s report examined the 1,200-page state budget, as well as the budgets of top local governments. Because so many local governments have yet to be examined, the Institute warns that it’s likely that millions more may have been wasted in other communities across the state without taxpayers being aware.

The read the full report, visit http://illin.is/wastewatch.

For bookings or interviews, contact Melanie Krakauer or Rachel Wittel at media@illinoispolicy.org or (312) 607-4977.